Clay Matthews: Matthews fell just short of his career high in sacks, a pretty remarkable feat. In 2010, he had 13.5 sacks in 15 games. He got plenty of help from his friends, with Cullen Jenkins (7.0) and B.J. Raji (6.5) combining for 13.5 sacks.
In 2012, Matthews had 13 sacks in just 12 games. While the 2010 and 2012 teams both had 47 sacks, Matthews was a one-man wrecking crew. Nobody else on last year's defense had more than 4.5 sacks.
With his nonstop motor, Matthews is arguably the game's best all-around linebacker. He's rugged against the run and excellent when asked to drop into coverage. Now, Matthews is ready for the next step of his career: unquestioned leader of the defense.
"I think it's just the natural progression of leadership on this team," he said. "Obviously, the more comfortable I am in this scheme and the longer I'm here, the longer tenured I am, the more I have to take that leadership opportunity. Especially in light of all that has happened in the offseason with Charles Woodson departing, the new contract. Showing trust in my leadership and ability on the field, so, yeah, you're going to see that. Especially in light of the last few years our defense, we're trying to turn it around and get this thing back to where we were when we had a Super Bowl run."
The big battle
Inside linebacker depth chart: The Packers parted ways with Desmond Bishop, who was one of their top playmakers. Beyond the obvious reasons for the decision — Bishop's injury history and the payroll locked up in A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones — the Packers have intriguing depth at inside linebacker. Jamari Lattimore and Robert Francois are top special-teams players, Terrell Manning has outstanding potential and a seventh-round pick was invested in Sam Barrington, a three-year starter at South Florida and an all-Big East selection. Manning, in particular, has big upside after tallying 10 sacks, 25 tackles for losses, six forced fumbles and four interceptions during two seasons as a starter at NC State.
Jamari Lattimore: Lattimore made the team as an undrafted outside linebacker in 2011. In 2012, he was moved to inside linebacker. He barely played on defense but had 10 tackles on special teams and was voted a special-teams captain for the playoffs.
Inside linebackers coach Winston Moss had plenty to say about Lattimore back in May.
"Jamari has made that steady improvement and it's been exciting to see his development," Moss said. "He's excited about the things that he brings. Versus the run, he's going to run sideline to sideline and be very athletic and be able to beat guys one-on-one and make a play. His blitz skill, I really do like what he's shown. He has that strength and power, as well, and he has that length to be able to stress an offensive tackle out, stress a running back out."
The long shots
UDFA outside linebackers: Nick Perry figures to join Clay Matthews in the starting lineup. Dezman Moses, an undrafted rookie last year, had a solid rookie season and should be the No. 1 backup. A sixth-round pick was used on Nate Palmer. Defensive end Mike Neal is in the mix, as well, in an undisclosed role. So, Andy Mulumba, Jarvis Reed and Donte Savage are behind the eight-ball. Working in their favor, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene has had great success with undrafted rookies (Frank Zombo in 2010, Vic So'oto in 2011 and Moses in 2012).
The bottom line
Not only are the Packers moving on without Bishop, but Erik Walden signed with Indianapolis. Nonetheless, the Packers feel good about their depth.
Now, can anyone make a play other than Matthews?
At inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones combined for 244 tackles but Jones had the only forced fumble and only six passes defensed. Beyond the big-play production, are they athletic enough to keep up with athletic quarterbacks or scatbacks?
At outside linebacker, Perry (two in six games) and Moses (four in 16 games) combined for six sacks, one forced fumble (Moses) and one pass defensed (Moses).
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.